Theatre Review: Bat Boy Takes Flight as a Frequently Funny Parody

Bat Boy, played by Zach Counsil. Photo by David Pasho/Production Ottawa

Bat Boy: The Musical

Black Sheep Theatre

At The Gladstone

Reviewed Wed., Jan. 16

OTTAWA — It’s an unlikely plot: A half-bat, half-boy emerges from a cave and tries to make a life for himself in a redneck West Virginia town. But then again, logic and musicals don’t necessarily keep company.

Under Black Sheep Theatre director Dave Dawson, the ensemble delivers a funny, occasionally poignant and spirited production of this nihilistic cult favourite written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe. The writers based the musical on an early 1990s story in the satiric Weekly World News.

Zachary Counsil plays Bat Boy. Equipped with a pair of overgrown eye teeth and Mr. Spock-like ears, he’s full-voiced on the musical numbers (that’s not true of all the cast) and textured when depicting the pain of being unusual in a world where being unusual is to be feared and hated.

And Bat Boy is feared and hated. The folks of Hope Falls – now there’s an ambiguous name for a town – are horrified when Bat Boy first appears. It’s a classic case of “otherness,” although Bat Boy, taken in by the kindly if frigid Meredith Parker (Rebekah Shirey), wife of the local veterinarian, soon acquires language and manners in excellent My Fair Lady fashion. The big Act One number Show You a Thing or Two is a tip of the tongue-in-cheek hat to that hit musical, with Bat Boy exclaiming, in a paraphrase of Professor Henry Higgins, “I think I’ve got it!”

Poster for Bat Boy. Photo by David Pasho/Production Ottawa

He also acquires a love interest: Meredith Parker’s daughter Shelley (Alessia Lupiano), an eager beaver if there ever was one.

Alas, while Bat Boy is soon speaking in a cultured British accent (he learns English from BBC tapes, although where he got them in West Virginia is a mystery) and sipping tea with the best of them, he remains the perennial outsider and does have a hankering to sink his fangs into the occasional neck.

Local ranchers, played by various other cast members, and the tin-pot sheriff (Tim Oberholzer who looks like he stepped right off the set of a Hollywood western) are perpetually suspicious of him, especially when cattle start to die.

Dr. Parker, the vet, initially wants to kill Bat Boy but changes his mind when his wife promises him a little much longed-for sack time in exchange for sparing the creature’s life. Inevitably, though, he sides with the ranchers and turns against Bat Boy again.

Kris Joseph, whose presence on Ottawa stages has been sorely missed since he moved west, has returned to play Parker, an unpleasant sort whose unhappy marriage is his own fault but who still, at least briefly, elicits our sympathy.

Joseph also plays a thoroughly randy and campy Pan, god of shepherds, in a steamy woodland scene toward the end of the show that finds all God’s creatures great and small, depicted by puppets, humping like there’s no tomorrow. A truer-to-life take on the natural world than goopy musicals like Disney’s The Lion King, it’s a scene that might make you think twice about bringing youngsters to the show.

The production did have hiccups on opening night. Timing was now and then ragged, and, in the first act especially, the five-person on-stage band often overwhelmed the singers.

Still, between pillorying religion in a lively revival meeting scene and spoofing the musical genre itself, the current Bat Boy takes few prisoners.

Those it does take should keep a wary eye out for glistening teeth.

Continues until Feb. 2. Tickets: 613-233-4523, thegladstone.ca.

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